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Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing Creepy: Perverting the Normal

(Listen or watch this writing tip on Youtube)

Creepy doesn’t have to be outlandish to send chills down a spine. Often what’s really creepy is something normal that has been twisted, distorted, or perverted either physically or through the story line.

Take dolls as an example. If you go to a store and see a doll, you probably won’t look at it and consider it scary, right? But put the doll in a horror movie with a knife in its head (physical) or give it a criminal conscious (story), then it becomes a little more disturbing, and if done well, you might feel uncomfortable whenever you see a doll.

Sometimes, making something normal creepy is more powerful than creating something foreign and outlandish.

After I read The Hunger Games trilogy, I couldn’t look at roses the same way for months. Every time I saw a rose it reminded me of President Snow, him poisoning people, killing children, and his constant, omniscient presence in Panem. He, and by extension his roses, became creepy.

But perhaps more unnerving were the genetically engineered, human-animal hybrids. In the first novel, the Capitol mixes dogs with the DNA of dead tributes. They unleash the creatures on Katniss in the arena.

Here is some concept art from the movie. As you can see, the mutts were toned down a lot in the final product.

These images have creeped me out ever since I first laid eyes on them because they marry two normal things (dogs and humans) in a perverted way.

Another example of a twisted creature that comes to mind is the dementors from Harry Potter. Dementors have a humanoid figure that resonates with the concept of “death,” but one of the creepiest dementor moments for me is when Harry finally sees what’s under a dementor’s hood.

“Where there should have been eyes, there was only thin, gray scabbed skin, stretched blankly over empty sockets. But there was a mouth…a gaping, shapeless hole, sucking the air with the sound of a death rattle” (Prisoner of Azkaban).

Again, something normal (a human face) is made creepy by perverting its appearance.

I have one more example. In the film adaptation of The Hobbit, we are introduced to the character Azog the Defiler. Part of his arm was cut off in an earlier battle, so he has a metallic claw. We've all seen pirates with hooks for hands, so the idea isn't all the shocking in today's world. But the filmmakers took the concept further. They added one little detail: the end of the claw goes through his arm, so you can see it poking out the other side. What a small but powerful detail. It made me uncomfortable whenever I saw it. They took a familiar concept and twisted it.

There are, of course, other ways to ramp up creepiness in a story, such as good, specific word choice, but consider this technique next time you need something unnerving.

How do you amplify creepy moments in your writing?


  1. I watched a video that touched on this topic almost the same way as you did here. Totally agree, too. Our minds are just built to be weirded out but something slightly abnormal, at first anyway. One of those survival instinct things. :)


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